The Drivers’ Championship table suggests that 2022 was a huge success for ART Grand Prix but Team Principal Sébastien Philippe has set expectations even higher for next season. The French outfit ended the year with Victor Martins crowned Champion, but couldn’t close the gap in the Teams’ Standings, finishing third for the third year running.
Champions PREMA Racing and runners-up Trident both put together more consistent seasons and already, Philippe has a clear idea on where the team must focus for next season. Looking back at the ’22 campaign, the ART boss says that while Martins’ Championship was a huge positive, there were plenty of missed opportunities along the way.
“It was good on one side, we won the title with Victor, but it was a difficult Championship because we faced many problems, as did everybody,” Philippe summarised. “Where that happened the most was in Qualifying, sometimes the conditions were between dry and wet, sometimes a lot of yellow flags and sometimes Red Flags. It was difficult to optimise Qualifying, so we missed a few opportunities with our three drivers, and the impact was quite huge for the rest of the weekend.
“It was really difficult to put it all together every time, so I think in terms of results, we should have done better. We were missing some opportunities and getting results far from what we would have expected, especially with Grégoire (Saucy), whose performance was much better than what the picture formed throughout the year, I think. It was important to be up there every lap this year, sometimes we didn't get a lot of chances to perform.
“In Qualifying, you only get two or three laps and there are 30 cars on track, so it’s tricky. We could see that the gaps between the cars were so little between the top 15, you can easily end up down the order and it destroys a weekend. This is something we need to improve, to be more consistent in what we are doing for next year.”
For the team’s only confirmed driver for 2023 at the moment, Grégoire Saucy showed glimpses of speed early on in the year, but he slipped as the season progressed. His podium in Bahrain and performance at Imola was a welcome sign of promise, but due to a variety of reasons, the Swiss driver fell away from those lofty heights.
Though the results table made for a disappointing read, Philippe says that within the team, there was no doubts as to the level Saucy was performing throughout the year, and the team boss believes that some factors outside of their control affected him adversely throughout the season.
“It’s never one thing when you start to struggle, there’s many points. I think he was performing much, much better than what his results were showing. It's just that a few times in Qualifying, he wasn’t optimised, or we didn't do something in the moment we should have done. When we have analysed all the season, clearly the performance was a little bit lower than at the beginning for different reasons, and I include the team in that, but I think it was not that bad it's just that it didn't work all together.”
With a follow-up season in the offing next year, Philippe has made clear he expects a significant step forward by Saucy, and he doesn’t rule out a title challenge by the Swiss in 2023. “I’m expecting him to do a copy/paste of his strengths this season. Grégoire has the speed, the key will be to be always up there, and for us to be more consistent in what we do. But I think he can be a serious title contender next year.”
One of the feel-good stories to come out of the 2022 season was Juan Manuel Correa and his podium at Zandvoort. Having returned from injury, suffered a setback and come back once more, Correa’s ’22 was a high spot for ART in Philippe’s book.
Working with the 23-year-old driver, the ART boss points to an outstanding work ethic that Correa displayed throughout the year, and while there was no top step appearance, it wasn’t through a lack of speed or opportunity.
His chance at Red Bull Ring fell by the wayside as an issue forced the American out of the lead and race altogether. Zandvoort then was a cathartic moment for both team and driver. “I'm very proud that we gave the opportunity for Correa to come back, it was not an easy one clearly. We started from scratch, and I remember when signing the contract with him two years ago, we were not sure whether he would be able to drive. It had been quite a long process but we were very happy to end up on the podium with him.
“It was difficult for him to get everything back. I think again it was a similar story to Grégoire, his performance was getting better and better, but we have been unlucky two times when he was fighting for wins. He had to miss one round because of injury too, so it hasn’t been a clean season for him but I’m happy with how he has come back to the sport. At the end of the day, I think it was a very positive time with him and we put him back in the game.
“It was good to bring back JM from where he was in February ’21 to the podium, we’ve all worked hard together, and he’s been working like hell. I don’t know if people understand from where he’s come from, he’s been motivated and dedicated to get back there. It was a great moment for him but also for us because we’ve helped him get back there. It was a great reward for him and for us. I think it was a really nice story.”
Formula 3 Champion in 2022, Martins was the strongest of the ART drivers and put together the most consistent campaign of all the title contenders. Though the Frenchman claimed the Championship, it was a long road to get there and one that Philippe believes could have been easier had the team and driver found a better rhythm and level of performance throughout.
But, for the boss, Martins’ start to the year was where the title was won. Victory in the Sakhir Feature Race put him and ART on the front foot early on, but difficulties quickly followed.
No win at Imola on a weekend in which his closest rivals looked more comfortable piled on the pressure, yet it was the difference between the Barcelona test and race weekend in which Philippe believes the season was won.
Following a disappointing test, ART rebounded in style to secure Martins’ second Feature Race win of the season in the opening three rounds at a circuit in which the team was expecting the worst following its performance in the preceding test.
“It was a good season at the end because we won it. In terms of pure performance, I think he was a little bit linear, little mistakes and other issues made it a little more difficult. We need to learn from that and work together to do a better job next year. We shouldn't forget that just because he was Champion, everything was perfect. But in those difficult moments this year, Victor was able to stay strong mentally and deliver in the difficult moments this year and delivered what he had to.
“The first two weekends, the performance was there but, considering it was his second season, the first two races weren’t difficult but in Qualifying the speed wasn’t there. When we arrived in Imola with the changing weather, we didn’t have a quick weekend. After that we had a difficult test in Barcelona which left me worried because we weren’t looking good ahead of that weekend. But he was able to recover and delivered a very solid weekend. That was the key moment of the season, when the start was less good than expected but he kept his mind clear and performed really well in Barcelona.”
And so, after what was an up and down campaign according to the team, focus is now reset and laser-pointed at 2023. There is no shortage of lessons from which the team and its drivers will be eager to learn and improve from, and despite its P3 finish in the Teams’ Standings, the pressure of winning next time out is the only goal for ART.
Philippe insists the ingredients are already at their disposal, only that it will be a case of mixing it all together to take the cherry on top and a possible title sweep.
“I think we could have done many things much better to be honest and I’m focused on that. There’s nothing in F3 that you do very, very well because we’re in a sport where you can always do better. I can’t say we did something really well, but we definitely have a strong team, and we have the experience. At the end of the day, we can always do better.
“We need to find some performance, that’s for sure. I think, and everybody could say the same including a lot of the drivers - the consistency has to be there. It's a difficult Championship with a lot of cars and good teams, sometimes the difference between hero and zero is two-tenths. You need to optimise everything always and do it very quickly. Free Practice doesn’t give us a lot of time, so you need to be up there from the beginning of the weekend. Adaptability and consistency are the two main things we need to continue improving for next year as a team and for our drivers.
“The expectation is always the same: we always start the championship with the target to win it. That is the expectation for next year. We will be focused on that.”